CARMEL, IN—The Carmel-Center Grove football rivalry is one of the best in the state of Indiana. Every year Trojans and Greyhounds play early in the season with major Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference ramifications. In 2008, they played with more more at stake, the Class 5A State Championship.
That game can simply be referred to as "The Comeback."
Fast forward three years to another epic playoff showdown between Center Grove and Carmel. While not quite as improbable, Carmel put together a very memorable comeback, turning the tables on the Trojans and claiming a Semi-State Championship.
Center Grove dominated the first half in all facets of the game. On the Trojans second possession, Center Grove marched 84 yards and scored a touchdown on Logan Hutson's five yard touchdown run.
The Trojans very nearly recovered an onside kick after the touchdown, an attempt that had to bring back bad memories to Carmel fans of the 2008 title game in which Center Grove recovered consecutive fourth-quarter onside kicks.
Alex Lucas scored on a two-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter giving Center Grove a shocking 17-0 lead at halftime.
"They (Center Grove) came out in the first half unbelievable. I was trying to keep everyone's heads up, the game shifts because of momentum and its a battle of inches and that's what it really came down to was inches," said senior running back Jalen Duncan.
Duncan is a big reason Carmel came back from that deficit. The senior running back scored three second half touchdowns, the third of which gave Carmel a 21-17 lead.
Kevin Wright's team had to rely on not one, but two defensive stands in order to preserve the victory.
Center Grove got inside the Carmel 20 yard line with under five minutes to play, but quarterback Kody Kavanaugh was intercepted by Loukas Sinnis on fourth and five from the Carmel 19-yard line.
Center Grove's defense rose to the occasion, taking the possession back when Alex Aukerman forced a Damian Pennington fumble. Drew Ponder came up with the football and giving the Trojans the ball back at the Carmel 11 yard line with 1:58 to play.
Center Grove came close to answering Carmel's comeback with one of their own which would've completed an improbable run to Lucas Oil Stadium. The Trojans were just 5-4 in the regular season and entered the post-season on a three-game losing streak.
The final chapter in the Trojans story was not written the way Center Grove fans would've hoped for as on fourth and seven, Jack Buskirk sacked Kody Kavanaugh leading to a couple of kneel downs and a Carmel 21-17 victory.
"We talked about heart. They were beating us up front pretty bad on both sides of the ball," said Carmel head coach Kevin Wright after the win. "We've been behind in big games three or four times this year by large margins, so we know how to fight through adversity and take it one play at at time, don't look at the scoreboard and eventually good things happen."
Carmel's Semi-State "Comeback" earns the Greyhounds a game against Penn in the Class 5A State Championship Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
You can watch all five IHSAA Football State Championship games live in high-definition on WTTV, Indiana's Four, part of the IHSAA Champions Network.